Walter Mossberg is an influential tech columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Today’s column is a well-justified complaint about the process of setting up a new computer.

Mossberg is moderately complimentary about Windows Vista; although the most time-consuming part of a new computer is the process of moving files and settings and reinstalling programs, Mossberg notes that “Vista has actually made moving files and settings easier, and it isn’t different enough from Windows XP to make for a steep learning curve.”

The problem is the crud installed by the computer manufacturers. Mossberg is describing the “craplets” – horrible programs bundled with new computers by manufacturers more concerned with lining their pockets than with your needs.

Mossberg was setting up a Sony laptop, but he notes that he’d have the same experience with, say, an HP laptop. (For what it’s worth, Dell’s business division is doing a far better job of shipping reasonably clean computers.)

“The problem is a lack of respect for the consumer. The manufacturers don’t act as if the computer belongs to you. They act as if it is a billboard for restricted trial versions of software and ads for Web sites and services that they can sell to third-party companies who want you to buy these products.

“I’m distinguishing these programs, sometimes called “craplets,” from the full-featured, built-in Sony software meant to enhance the computer, or from entire, useful programs Microsoft builds into Windows, such as music and photo organizers.

“On my new Sony, there were two dozen trial programs and free offers. The desktop alone contained four icons representing come-ons for various America Online services, and two for Microsoft. The start menu and program menu had more items that I neither chose nor wanted. Napster, a music service I don’t use, was lodged at the lower right of the screen.

“The worst was a desktop icon called “Watch Hit Movies Now!” This turned out to be four full-length films from Sony’s movie studios, which the company had preloaded onto my computer at the cost of more than four gigabytes of precious hard-disk space. But they aren’t a gift. If you want to play them, you have to pay Sony.”

Mossberg also ran into trouble with the security software pre-loaded on his new computer, but that’s a symptom of the same problem. There is very, very little well-designed security software on the market, and suites from Norton and McAfee should be uninstalled immediately when a new computer is unboxed.

Setting up a new computer should feel like opening a Xmas present. Instead it’s the beginning of a time-consuming ordeal to remove crap. My time to set up a new computer has crept up in the last year; frequently I’ll spend two hours just cleaning up the unnecessary programs and installing updates.

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